COUNTRY RAMBLIN’Sby Tamara Hillman
Hello to all you cowboys and cowgirls who get up every morning to do the work of ten, (without complaint) in your everyday routine…Life on a ranch is never ending with only a slight reprieve in the dead of winter to rest by the fire a little more than usual, if you’re lucky.
Since February is a short month, it seems like yesterday we were saying goodbye to January…But here it is March, and though everyone starts feeling like spring is just around the corner, snows can still swirl in, and pile high against fence posts and out buildings from now ‘til the middle of April. Many a time, we kids were leapin’ snow banks to hunt Easter eggs where I grew up.
This month is hard to come up with anything new to write about because other than a Chinook wind that may blow in and be a real snow rotter, it’s not a very exciting month.
Soooooooo, I’ve decided to write a short tale about a day in the life of a rancher’s wife. Not a true story, but a good rendition of just what a day can be like from the crack of dawn ‘til long after the sun goes down for any gal stuck fifteen or twenty miles from town, doin’ her best to pick up the slack needed to keep everything runnin’ smooth on the ranch.
The shrill ringing of the alarm goes off at 4:30 a.m. next to my ear, and I grab for it before Jim stirs. I swear, that man can sleep through a baby cryin’ in the same room, or a tornado hittin’ the house broadside.
My feet hit the cold floor, toes searching in the dark for my old, fluffy slippers. My shoulders ache as I slip into my robe at the end of the bed, and legs feel wobbly from gettin’ far too little sleep. I wander out to the kitchen to get coffee started, and put a couple logs in the stove while passing through the living room.
My old, chipped, green cupboards with plenty of white paint showing through from the original color fifty years ago greet me as I get ingredients for yeast rolls down to counter level. If I can get the dough rolled out and punched down before I go out to milk Clementine, it should be ready to punch a second time, and make into rolls when I get back to the house.
That first cup of coffee tastes good as I thumb through yesterday’s paper half dreaming of a nap I know I’ll not be able to take this afternoon.
Jim called me out at ten-thirty last night sayin’ we’d probably have to help a young heifer give birth to her first calf real soon. She’d been strainin’ all day, and he’d tied her to a stall in the barn for fear she’d head for the first snow-drifted gully she could find to lay down and have her calf.
When I got out there, she was bawlin’ and lookin’ wild-eyed. Having given birth myself, I can’t help but take pity on a poor critter havin’ a rough time in labor.
You could see the calf’s little pink nose and two tiny hooves trying for all they’s worth to bust outta that tight space, but to no avail. Jim said we’d best get a rope on those feet an’ start pullin’ or it could take all night, and we’d probably have a dead calf at the end of it.
This wasn’t my first time helpin’ pull a calf, an’ most times it seems to be on a cold, windy night like last when a cow comes early to birthin’ long before the others do in late spring.
Jim rigged up a rope, and after about ten tries he got it secured around the baby calf's feet. Then, the work began. We watched her contractions and pushes so as to time when to give a good pull, an’ our work was rewarded a little after midnight. The cutest little, white-faced bull finally came slitherin’ out. The worn out heifer didn’t have the strength to clean the babe up, so Jim an’ I grabbed burlap sacks, and started dryin’ and wipin’ the calf down. Steam was risin’ off him as well as Jim an’ I from the effort, but it wasn’t long before we had everything squared away, an’ Mama on her feet to nurse the new-born.
I flopped into bed at quarter to one, and fell instantly asleep.
Well, it’s now five-thirty a.m., and I’d best roust Jim out of bed before I head for the barn. He’s got feed to get out to the cattle on the flatbed sled ol’ Ramsey and Canter drag along as he throws hay off. The water on the pond and in the horse troughs needs to have the ice on them chopped through with his trusty axe too. Cattle an’ horses get dehydrated easy in cold, dry winters, so ya have to keep plenty of water de-iced for them to have at the ready.
This winter has been a long, hard one with snow we haven’t seen piled this high for quite a few years. Wind blows everyday just to make it feel more bitter cold when ya have to go out. No matter how many layers I stack on my bones, that wind seems to cut right through every one.
The cow’s milked, an’ I’m fixin’ a big breakfast for Jim and the kids. Rolls are in the oven, and side-pork is sizzlin’ in the pan. Now about a dozen scambled eggs oughta do for the four of us. I hear the kids trampin’ downstairs knowin’ they smell bacon cookin’—their favorite.
Joey is eleven, and Ty is 14, an’ tall as his dad. They help a lot with hayin’ in summer months, cattle roundups to winter pasture down on the lower flat lands in fall, and drivin’ ‘em back up to feed in grassy pastures on the mountain ranges in late spring, but for now, they need to concentrate on school.
Jim comes in half froze an’ warms himself a few seconds in front of the wood stove before sittin’ down to breakfast. The food disappears quickly between he and those two growin’ boys.
The kids barely get hair combed and teeth brushed when we hear the bus pull up to our drive, and give a short blast of the horn. Coats are grabbed off hooks by the door, stocking caps I knitted last year are pulled hastily over crew cut hair, and I practically throw their lunch bags at them as they swing out the door.
Ahhhhh, morning rush is over. Jim heads back out to check on the new calf and get some tack oiled while I scrape dishes, and get them soaking. Beds to make, vacuum to run, then, it’s back out to feed the old hens still roosting in a huddle trying to stay warm in the coop. Gotta pay some bills too since Jim finally collected on work he did last month for Will Gunther, down the road a piece. We knew any extra money would come in handy ‘bout now when things seem to slow to a crawl. Bills don’t stop just ‘cause crops aren’t in, or cattle didn’t get top dollar at the stockyards when we sold ‘em. But we’ll manage if no one in the family breaks any bones, or gets sicker than what grandma’s home remedies can cure.
By next month, we’ll need money to buy 30 little chicks, and a couple of squeelers, (pigs) to raise through spring and summer for slaughter next fall just to keep meat on the table—besides the venison Jim and the boys always bag in November.
After dishes and some swift house keeping, I look at the clock and realize it’s almost noon. Jim will be comin’ in hungry as a bear pretty soon. Grilled cheese sandwiches and crock-pot soup left over from last night should hold him a few more hours.
He comes in, in a rush with frost in his mustache, and nose as red as Rudolf’s, sayin’ he needs me to hold the gate and close it after he gets our bull back in. Ol’ curious Buster broke through the fence again, and Charlie Meager, our neighbor across the road and down a quarter mile, drove his pickup up to say that fool bull was runnin’ down the fence line.
Charlie’s a good one to help anytime a friend needs it, so he and Jim take off for the road. I turn off the soup, and bundle up for what may take an hour or more to herd that darn bull back inside his pen.
I was hoping for a nice hot bath after lunch, but as I pull my wool cap over frazzled hair, and glimpse myself in the mirror by the door with not a speck of lipstick or color in my face, I realize it’ll be closer to bedtime before there’s a break.
Off the back porch steps I fly, and slide half way to the barn before I can get my feet under me again, but nothing’s hurt accept my pride as I brush myself off, and look around to see if Charlie an’ Jim were close enough to see my great belly-flop in the snow.
The gate is buried at its bottom by a snowdrift and won’t budge, so I retrace my steps to the tack shed where hubby keeps the snow shovel. Then, back to the task at hand trying to get that gate dug out before the men and one angry bull show up. I finish just minutes before their arrival. Jim guides Buster thru’ the gate with a cattle prod to his rear, and I slide the gate closed and fasten it before the bull can change his mind about stayin’!
Jim climbs over the fence and affixes the two boards he can plainly see Buster slid out of place for his escape. A few thank yous and pats on the back for Charlie, and we’re back inside our kitchen having warmed-over lunch. I ask about the new bull calf we brought into the world last night, and Jim says after a long swig of milk, “He looks just great. Mom and baby, both doin’ fine.”
When he’s eaten two grilled cheese sandwiches, and a large bowl of soup, Jim hits the recliner with ol’ Tip, our dog, right by his side knowing they both may get a few winks of sleep before checkin’ the herd and feedin’ horses in what’s left of the afternoon light.
The kids get home from school and want food, as usual, so I cut them each a slice of hot apple pie I made after lunch dishes were done, and add a hunk of cheese and glass of milk to round off their snack. Don’t know where they put it all, but not a pound extra shows on those boys—their dad either. They all eat like horses and look like string beans. It’s not fair. Pounds continually try to creep on my backside every winter when I’m not riding my cuttin’ horse, Duke, so often, or helping buck bails, garden, or some other fool thing to keep me busy and active in warmer months.
Soon it’s dark outside and Jim hasn’t come in yet to be fed, so I send Ty out to milk Clementine, and round up his dad for supper.
I add a few noodles to the chicken in the pot, and tell Joey to set the table. He grumbles something under his breath about it being ‘Chick work” to be doin’ kitchen chores, and I’m quick to set him straight.
“Someday, when you’re workin’ this ranch, and you’re hunkered down in a line shack for a couple months at a time, you better know how to cook and wash dishes, young man.”
By the time dinner dishes are done, and the boys have their school work spread out on the table, I finally get that hot bath I’ve longed for all day. It’ll sure feel good on my achin’ shoulders and stiff thighs after pullin’ that calf into the world twenty-four hours ago…
Alice Hansen, ( aka. rancher’s wife).
Well, there ya have it. Everyday may not be as full as I made this one for miss Alice, but you can count on the unexpected, and loads of surprise chores on any real workin’ ranch in this country. So, give these folks their due. They earn it every single day on the ranch.
Here’s a poem on the same subject….
Send Country Ramblin's
On To A Friend
Using Your Mail Program
Comments & Suggestions
Write To Us Here
Subscribe To Be On
The Weekly Mailing List
For New Pages